Which Son Am I
Sermon published by Pastor Joel Pukallus
Bible reading: Matthew 21:23-32
Is this a successful church? What are the marks of a successful church? Well, the bible should tell us, after all, the church was instituted by Jesus Christ, and he is the centre of the bible. But you know, the bible is strangely silent on the concept of what a successful church is. In fact, it doesn’t use the word success very often at all. But when it does, it uses it in a different sense than many church-growth gurus and marketing analysts. Success it seems, is a very human concept, and the way we measure it, even more so.
By the reckoning of many business writers, and even other churches, this is not a successful church, because there is at least one empty seat, and after all, for years that was the measure of success, wasn’t it? Backsides on seats. How many people you have in the building. But if that is all you worry about, then which son are you?
Because that is the challenge of this parable of Jesus, isn’t it? Which son am i? Which definition, in this parable of Jesus, sums me up? Am I the second who says all the right things, and then does not end up doing the will of my father, or am I the first son, who might not be seen to say and do all the right things, but whose actions result in growth, real growth.
And it is easy to sit here and say “I’m not a Pharisee (because it was the Pharisees Jesus was talking to and about here), I do the will of God, look, here I am in church every week.” But you know, the Pharisees were there every week too. But their hearts were far from God.
If we go back to that word “success” then we find that where it does occur in scripture, it is not something that comes from us, and our actions, but from God.
Proverbs 2:7 He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
It is God who holds success in his hand, not us. It is God who blesses, who achieves, not us. Without me, Jesus said, you can do nothing.
But the success God holds is for who? It is for the upright. In other words, for those who walk upright, who walk the right path, something that we cannot do without God, and something that we cannot do without each other.
So we need again to ask the question, “which son am i?”
Am I the second son, who could be characterised as coming to church every week, showing God the part of my personality that I want him, and my fellow members, to see, and then, thinking I have fooled him, go out into my week and show the other side of myself to the world, yell at my family, cheat in business, live a life that does not look like I am a son or daughter? That was the second son, who looked like he was doing the right thing, but in his heart, he was far from what his father wanted. And that sort of life for us, is far from what our father wants. It is far from the relationship that he created us for.
Or am I the first son, who is willing to show my father that I am broken, that I do not always feel like being here on a Sunday, willing to show my brothers and sisters in the church that I am someone who gets angry, who is selfish at times, who is human after all, but then lives out the will of my father, not by what I look like or do when I front up in worship or in church meetings, but when no one is looking? Because that is the response, the life of the first son. And that is the relationship God wants with us. We are not going to fool him with the right answers if our heart is not in it. We might manage to fool each other, though, and that, unfortunately, is the opposite of success.
I would like to put forward a definition of success for a child of God.
Success we can define as our growth into the person who God created us to be. It is our growth in him and with him, and this will not happen unless we are honest with him, and with those who walk beside us, and we walk the road together.
You may never have heard of my favourite Christian band. They are called “Casting Crowns” and they have a song called “the stained glass masquerade”. Just the name gets you squirming, as you realise that what they are dealing with might hurt. The song cuts to the heart of this quest for success and the way that we present ourselves to each other in worship, as if we do not even need God, and are afraid to show our weaknesses.
The first verse says” Is there anyone who fails, is there anyone who falls, am I the only one in church today, feeling so small? And the chorus hits hard as it asks? “are we happy plastic people, under shiny plastic steeples, with walls around our weakness, and smiles to hide our pain, ‘cos if the invitation’s open, to every heart that has been broken, maybe then we’ll close the curtain on the stained glass masquerade.”
If we think have it all together, and feel that we do not need to walk closer with God every day, then we really are the second son, aren’t we? He hid his disobedience behind a mask of obedience and love, but his heart wasn’t in it.
The first son was real, he was honest, he was a bit crusty and raw, he was a bit confrontational, his refusal would have been a shock to the listeners of Jesus’ day. But in his heart he knew what he had to do. He worked in his Fathers vineyard.
Our fathers vineyard is all around us. It needs workers too. You might not think you have the ability to do the work, but God needs you to work in your little row, on your little vine. Bring his grace into the lives of those with whom you come in to contact. Pray for your children and your Grandchildren. Parents with young children, keep bringing them up to know and love God. Trust that one day, there will be a harvest.
And come here and be real. Then our churches will be successful, when growth happens in us. Growth that sees souls blessed from cradle to grave. Growth that comes from God. That is success.